Recently some friends and I visited the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center in Peterborough, New Hampshire. With our kids in tow, we were enchanted by the museum’s lively, hands-on exhibits and comfortable setting. The museum’s collection includes modern and ancient art and instruments from Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. While the museum is for all ages, we found it to be wonderfully accessible for young people. Through February 15th, the museum has an exhibit on the multicultural history of chocolate, which it delightfully combines with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Having each lived in diverse communities, taught in formal and non-formal settings, and aimed to promote intercultural understanding using wide-ranging methods including environmental education, poetry, and dance, my friends and I each feel strongly about the importance of teaching kids about the world. After our visit to the museum, we got to thinking about just what it is that helps kids maintain a healthy sense of curiosity and the willingness to reach toward other cultures, rather than withdrawing when they encounter something unfamiliar. Here are some of the things we came up with, and how the Mariposa Museum does them well:
Have a good time. When kids adore something, they keep going back for more. In how many museums can you lounge around on vibrant, cozy pillows while playing games and trying out instruments for hours? And that’s just for starters. Throughout the museum, there are many lovely things to look at, read about, and hear, along with great books, puppets, and places to sit and think.
Jenny appreciated that, while the museum is delightful, it’s not overly stimulating. Kids can move at their own pace, and peek into drawers or explore nooks and crannies without feeling sensory overload. I loved that when we left, everyone was uplifted and smiling, rather than tired and overwhelmed.
Develop empathy. When kids relate to something, they feel comfortable with it. While there were distinct differences among items in the museum, there was also unity in what we saw. An exhibit about global holidays during winter months shows how each holiday includes an element of light. The room filled with instruments shows that percussion exists all around the world. Marcela, who is originally from Nicaragua, was excited to learn that there are instruments in Africa that are similar to Nicaraguan marimbas.
Judith noted that the story of chocolate is an important one, and she was glad to see that the kids could learn, not only delightful things about the history of chocolate, but also something about the unfairness of the chocolate trade. The exhibit offered young people a window into how complex many of our life experiences are.
Explore an idea from a variety of angles. Puzzles help kids learn. We loved that each floor told us something of the history of chocolate, but also that the telling was threaded throughout other exhibits. This set the stage for helping our kids think about the value of paying attention to even small details. It also gave them a chance to look at ways things that seem unrelated might actually be connected.
Create and honor beauty. Kids thrive when they are nurtured by the world around them. The museum offers a feast for the senses—you’ll find everything from opera masks from the ancient Silk Road to a bottlecap rattlesnake from the American Southwest. And there is also ample opportunity for visitors to create beauty by making music, paintings, and other hands-on art forms. The Mariposa offers many reasons to smile.
We asked the kids what they enjoyed and learned at the museum. Their answers show that the Mariposa is fulfilling its intention to help people explore the world through all their senses:
Marcela, 18: “There was a beautiful Asian doll, and I loved the puppets.”
Mateo, 9: “I like that we created a band and made music together.”
Fiona, 10: “I was interested in the holidays around the world, and how they are all celebrated so differently.”
Lucas, 5: “Every place everywhere should have a room of chocolate.”
Hi, I'm Deidra
To me, transformative travel means traveling in a way that connects you to places and people in a profound way., being real and present with what is happening while you travel and recognizing the impact travel has on your life beyond your journeys.